Practical and consistent file naming
Practical and consistent file naming
In addition to a logical folder structure, practical and uniform file naming is another important factor that forms the basis of modern information management. While working with companies, I am always amazed by how many of them have not held one single meeting and have no guidelines or provisions in place that cover this topic. Only in rare cases could someone show me an organization manual or a Wiki entry regulating this subject matter. I can also say that in virtually every company that we visit, the staff complain that they are unable to find anything on their drives, and if they do they have no idea who the previous processer was or whether the file found is the updated version of the required information.
Causes of file chaos
Often most employees simply name their files as they see fit, with each using their own logical approach. Not surprisingly then, there is huge uncertainty when it comes to file naming, with those working together on a drive consequently being unable to find anything.
When a number of people work together on files, the files are frequently sent back and forth, with those receiving a given file and making changes feeling compelled to store that file again, naturally under a new name that is different from the original one – even if only slightly. In bigger companies, sometimes between 10 and 20 versions of agendas, presentations and reports may exist. This is also the cause of long search times, dual processing, erroneous information and a massive waste of storage capacity. Even though storage capacity is now fairly inexpensive, the amount of generated bits and bytes is already a significant cost factor in many companies, with the professional disposal of junk data being the next pending bottleneck.
Important preliminary considerations for practical file naming
There is another way. Arranging meetings and drafting guidelines to facilitate practical and consistent file naming is not difficult and is best approached through teamwork. The only things that need to be invested are time, the resolve to consider personal and team work methods and perhaps a minor investment for an external consultant to monitor the process. Once these guidelines have been drafted, an amazing amount of time will be saved during day-to-day work. Staff no longer have to spend time wondering how to name their files in the most practical way. Even more time is saved when the required information is retrieved; and employees can be sure that they have found the latest updated version of the file in question.
So how does this function and what needs to be taken into consideration?
The first step is to consider the following:
- Which file types are to be created and used and in what volume?
- Who processes the files?
- Who is the recipient of the information (internal and/or external)?
- What are the requirements in terms of the desired sorting in Explorer or Finder?
- Should the files be sorted alphabetically or chronologically?
Basic file naming rules
- File names should be meaningful, not overly long and unique. But what do we mean by meaningful?
- No file should have the same name as the folder in which it is located
- Using the terms ‚letter‘ or ‚correspondence‘ in file names is superfluous
- A date within the file name is practical, even though the date it was last modified is always listed under Properties
- In order for computer sorting to keep the chronological order, the year should come first, then the month and then the day
- The initials or abbreviated name of the processor is also informative
- A brief and simple version number (particularly in the case of numerous processors) should be included in the file name
A file name in a chronologically sorted system could, for example, look like this: 20120625_Agenda_V7_AK
This file, for instance, is located in the folder ‚Committees‘, subfolder ‚Marketing meeting‘. These terms do not need to appear again in the name, only the information contained in the file is important.
- Agenda= Specific file information
- V7= Version number
- AK= Initials of the processor
Other options are: 12-06-25-Agenda-V7-AK or 120625AgendaV7AK
Chronological sorting is certainly a practical way to sort files as they only differ in the date of creation or event date, and are otherwise documents, tables or presentations on reoccurring subject matter.
Alphabetical sorting is a good solution when files located in a folder relate to different themes or different customers or employees. An example of this could be: vacation applications. If you have decided to deposit these in a collective ‚Vacation applications‘ folder (another option being the respective employee’s personnel folder), then a practical approach would be to put the name first and then the date of submission, e.g. Müller120507
Send links instead of mail attachments
Now you might say that the file name does not state which meeting the agenda is for, and rightly so. However, that is only partially correct. If you work on a shared drive and send a link instead of a file, the file path will show the corresponding parent folders, consequently emphasizing the respective subject reference.
You may wonder why underscores or hyphens are used in some of the above examples. File names today can be almost as long as desired and contain special characters and, of course, spaces. Although this is true, when you send links to a colleague, spaces can be a problem. In many systems a space will interrupt a link, meaning that the recipient may well be unable to access the required file.
This can be avoided by using underscores and hyphens instead of spaces or, when sending links, by placing ‚<‚ at the start of the link and ‚>‘ at the end. Sending links instead of files is a great way to ensure that your colleague is working on the same file, prevents mailboxes being crammed full and avoids having a flood of different versions of mutually processed files.
Naturally, there must be agreement up front as to whether all processors have the right to modify files and whether monitoring modifications is desired or not. In addition, a recommended convention is that the sender of the final version has the right and obligation to delete all the preceding versions. This process should effectively be part of workplace hygiene.
Requirements for sustainable use of the system
It is essential that all employees are familiarized with the agreed rules and are shown how to put a file name together and told why this has to be done. This is the only way to ensure that staff will understand and adhere to the rules. Those who do not follow the rules will find it difficult to adapt and maintain them in the hectic environment of day-to-day work.
Every company must ensure that this knowledge is current and available to everyone at all times. What should not happen is that the knowledge becomes inaccessible because one person is not present or has left the company.
The most practical solution is to develop the system with a number of staff. Utilizing different input, perhaps from different departments, is practical and increases the chance of acceptance.
If you have any questions regarding this subject matter, please mail us, leave a comment here or simply give us a call.
Next week, read about: Implementing file plan restructuring and drafting file naming rules within workshops